Young politician Manisha Chakrabarty talks to Nahid Riyasad about her experience in the recently conducted city corporation election in Barishal.
As the first ever woman mayoral candidate, possibly among the youngest candidates in Barishal’s history, Dr Manisha Chakrabarty has competed in the recently conducted city corporation election. New Age Youth has spoken with her before the election, as her political conviction has become source of inspiration for today’s youth. In the election, she represented the Socialist Party of Bangladesh with the promise to create a space for credible politics and trust beyond the two parties — Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League. She got tremendous support from the people of Barisal, she has earned their trust. People from all walks of life joined her campaign, supported her. Locally, in this time of political crisis, she became a symbol of hope.
However, the Election Day came in Barishal with news of massive irregularities including ballot stuffing, ousting or barring opposition polling agents from polling stations, physical assault of contestants and media personnel, most mayoral contestants but ruling Awami League, boycotted the polls.
It was reported that she got 1,917 votes before vote rigging started at different centres. She was physically assaulted allegedly by ruling party activists when she caught them red handed stuffing ballots. Her courageous acts of challenging those rigging vote were widely appreciated and the video of her activities against the irregularities went viral on social media. Manisha’s experience of the election day is presented in her own words,
‘Because of my long history of protesting alongside common and working class people, during the election campaign, they have repaid me with every bit of love. I have never believed in conventional campaigning methods like attractive posters, billboards. Instead, I have walked miles with commoners, took to streets fighting for people’s right. They have his helped me a lot to make a space in people’s mind. During the entire election campaigning, labourers stood beside me with their love, labour and little money. One day, a rickshaw puller, halim bhai, came to our office to donate Tk 1000. I knew that his wife was battling cancer, had to take chemotherapy every month, that is why I was reluctant at first to take the money. What the old man said in response took my heart away, ‘I have been saving this money for long enough to donate in your election fund and my wife insisted you on taking this little money’. Our campaign was run by such voluntary labour; rickshaw pullers lend their vehicles free of cost for our campaign mikes and they refused any monetary exchange for their effort. Moreover, there were areas where people saved coins in clay-banks; there were areas where we were treated with home cooked meals, free of coast, that too from people who belong to economically marginal class. When the team went to campaign in a tobacco factory, old workers gave us their full support, old voters even hugged me with tears of joy in their eyes and a heart filled with hope, once again. The love we received from the mass people was the greatest achievement of our election campaign.
A great surge of cordiality and love was experienced among the ordinary people for us. On one instance, a local imam bicycled to our team from the other part of the city, only to meet us. When the team went to that area, he welcomed us inside his madrasa,the team lectures in front of the students. Like this, religion loving people from different part of the town pledged their solidarity with our election campaign.
On the day of the polls, from the early morning after voting commenced, we started getting news of vote rigging and expelling of our agents from different polling stations. After I casted my vote with family members, I went out to visit different stations. When I reached the Barisal Government Girls High School, located at the heart of the town, I saw that all the mayoral ballots were already sealed on the ruling party sign. I protested at once and present media staffs covered the incident, then came election officer Mizanur Rahman. Then we went to the booth designated for women and saw the same. I asked a justification of such practice, however, a group of eight-ten political activists flaunting nouka badge (emblem for the ruling party) attacked me from behind, threw a few punches at me and tore the already sealed ballot paper. On one hand, such an incident at a centre in prime location is not acceptable, and on the other, physically assaulting a mayoral candidate in a polling station is abominable.
Even after the assault on me and the accusation of vote rigging, the voting continued amid the presence of the goons that attacked me and other polling agents. According to sources, within 8.30 in the morning, in most centers, polling agents were already expelled from their stations, may were physically assaulted by the goons. In some cases, we had reports that agents were locked inside washrooms for hours, within the premises of polling.
We managed to deploy our polling agents in 103 polling stations, nonetheless, we received news that pre-sealed ballots were delivered in each of those stations prior to the voting. In some stations, no mayoral-ballots were delivered. Moreover, we had reports from some stations that votes were casted forcefully. In a nutshell, the Barisal mayoral election had been a ‘staged circus’ and will be remembered as a dark patch in our history.’
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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